Famed Early Childhood Educator Stresses the Need for Play

Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, M.S. SpEd

Erika Christakis stresses the importance of play during preschool education in her new book The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups.    Christakis shared her insights with YaleNews in an interview before the book was released. As a highly experienced teacher and director, Christakis draws from her background and augments her insights by using research in the field of early childhood education.

Her primary points are that educators should get out of the children’s way and allow for more play-based educational experiences that are less formally scripted. Christakis also stresses that preschool teachers should create less cluttered environments. Instead, they should provide environments that let naturally curious children “think out loud.”

Christakis argues that preschool has “adultified children” in her book and expects them to adhere to adult time tables, sleep schedules, habits, and electronic usage. She praises teacher who have loosened up the reins and give children uninterrupted stretches of time to play instead of having jam-packed schedules.

Children can learn at a higher level when they play rather than engage in scripted activities. Christakis cites the example of how children playing grocery store “will use higher-level language structures” than when they sit around a table and count pictures of grocery carts.

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When asked of the role of preschool in closing the education gap, Christakis cited research that the current preschool system only closes this achievement gap by about 5%. She argues that by adopting the use of scientifically validated best practices, that we could reduce this gap by 30-50%. “This is a lost public policy opportunity of epic proportions” according to Christakis who argues that early childhood pedagogy should be based on ideas rather than making simple skills such as alphabet awareness the end point itself.

With this book receiving press in such major media outlets as NPR and The New York Times, one can hope that its message will reach a broad audience and influence the current strategies for teaching preschoolers.

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